'Absolutely heartbreaking': Investigators still searching for answers in 35-year-old murder mystery

Published: Monday, Aug. 29 2011 6:00 p.m. MDT

“We just don't have much to go on,” Marett told the Uintah Basin Standard one week after the crime.

That wouldn't be the case for long.

In November 1976 — six months after Othea Wamsley's body was found in a Neola irrigation canal — a father and son hunting west of Green River, Wyo., found the near-skeletal remains of a man in a dry gully. He had been shot several times, including once in the head. There was no driver's license or other form of identification on the body, but police found a prescription bottle that they were able to link to a Utah man named Brent William Nisonger.

It was their first break in the case.

The Wyoming investigators' second break came when an anonymous tip led them to John Scott Beverleigh, a Nisonger associate being held in the Salt Lake County Jail on a federal explosives charge. At first Beverleigh made no admissions about the murder, but eventually he asked if prosecutors would make him a deal in exchange for his testimony against Nisonger.

“He laid it all out,” said Sweetwater County sheriff's detective Dick Blust Jr., who worked the case.

Nisonger, Beverleigh and a third man, John Anthony Boggs, were in Wyoming selling guns stolen from a Salt Lake County firearms collector, Blust said. A rift of some kind developed between the men and Boggs was murdered, the detective said.

It took Wyoming State Crime Lab technicians several more months to confirm that the body in the gully was Boggs, a feat they accomplished by lifting fingerprints from his mummified hands.

“We knew who killed Boggs before we knew who he was,” Blust said.

At trial, Beverleigh testified that Nisonger had told him he “always wanted to kill somebody, somebody nobody would miss,” court records state. Prosecutors also introduced a jailhouse letter Nisonger wrote to his wife telling her “it would be a miracle if (police) ever found all the pieces” of the gun he used to kill Boggs.

Nisonger was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He escaped briefly from a state work farm in 1982 and was recaptured, yet still managed to get his sentence reduced on three separate occasions by late Wyoming Gov. Edgar "Ed" Herschler and was released from prison in December 1986.

Beverleigh pleaded guilty to accessory to murder after the fact. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

“These are very, very, very bad guys,” Blust said.

While Blust and his partner, Don Beckum, were still investigating the Boggs case, they suggested to Duchesne County authorities that Nisonger and Beverleigh might know something about the killing, kidnapping and robbery in Neola. It wasn't a random hunch, according to Blust. Nisonger had once lived less than a mile from the Neola store and Beverleigh had a brother living in Roosevelt when Wamsley was killed.

In April 1977, Sheriff Marett conducted one of at least four interviews with Nisonger about the Wamsley case.

“I believe I asked the sheriff what it would be worth for him to have an eyewitness to the case,” Nisonger would later testify.

Court records indicate the sheriff promised Nisonger immunity and Nisonger proceeded to implicate himself and Beverleigh in the Neola store robbery and the abduction and murder of Wamsley. What can't be discerned from these records or the case file, according to Gibson, is whether Nisonger had personal knowledge of the crime or if Sheriff Marett sought to strengthen the case by passing along information for Nisonger to use in his testimony.

“If Nisonger was (involved), he would have all those details,” Gibson said. “If not, then Marett would have all the great details that Nisonger gave in his initial statement.”

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